We all have a story about how we came to love bourbon. When I launched BourbonBanter.com I kicked things off by sharing my personal bourbon journey and it seemed to connect with a lot of people. Today I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog from Andrew Jones that details how he came to fall in love with America’s native spirit. Hope you enjoy his story. Make sure to let us know in the comments what you think of his work and whether or not we should invite him back on a regular basis to help evangelize bourbon our behalf.[hr]
My personal bourbon trail began in late summer of 2006. A winery in the Columbia River Gorge had announced their new tasting room and a few of us decided on a day-trip to check it out. Up to this point I would have categorized myself as a “reformed beer-geek” from Portland Oregon that was looking for his next obsession. If you would have asked me at the time I’d have told you it would be wine, but that belief was about to have a change of focus.
When we arrived at the winery, we learned they had overstated the progress of their tasting room. It was barely past its conceptual phase and the owner wasn’t sure why we had driven all that way to see a newly poured foundation. We were a bit disappointed with the miscommunication but since we had a full day available we started wandering around Bingen, Washington in search of wineries. After several stops we ended the day at Wind River Cellars.
The tasting room was small but quite busy trying to field the questions and requests of 15-20 people. I sat at the bar and studiously went through their flight of red wines. The group next to me caught my attention when I heard them mention they were from Lexington Kentucky. Recently I had started subscribing to F. Paul Pacult’s “Spirit Journal” and I recalled a review about an experimental bourbon that was very intriguing. I introduced myself and asked my tasting neighbor if he had ever heard of a distillery called Buffalo Trace. He replied, ” Why yes, I’m very familiar with them. In fact, I am good friends with Mark Brown, the owner”. We spent the next 40 minutes or so talking about Buffalo Trace, Lexington, and the similarities between Oregon and Kentucky. He ended the conversation with “If you are ever in the bluegrass, let me know and I’ll put you in contact with The Trace for a tour”. I was impressed and quite taken with the congeniality of our new friends from Kentucky.
That evening my wife and I (and another couple) booked a weekend trip to Frankfort! Four weeks, several airport delays, a couple of tornadoes and some broken landing gear later, we arrived for our grand adventure in Kentucky. Even though we had been up most of the night with our travel-related misfortunes, we arrived later that morning at Buffalo Trace for our hard hat tour. We were very excited at the prospect of touring the facility and it helped us forget our lack of sleep. We toured the entire grounds and had a wonderful day walking the ricks, applying some Blanton’s labels, tasting White Dog as it was being produced (from the master distiller’s glass), and most importantly, gaining an understanding of the rich history around producing bourbon. Their craftsmanship and their dedication to producing a quality product was evident in everything we observed.
We spent that night having dinner in Frankfort with our Kentucky hosts and got a real education in tasting bourbon. The bartender created several flights of bourbon for tasting which included labels from many distilleries. He explained the merits of each and we were allowed to spend a luxurious evening wandering through all of the Buffalo Trace Antiques, all of the Pappy’s, all of the AH Hirsch’s, and many others. I feel very fortunate to have been able to taste them and form my own opinions and not be influenced by hype or brand reputation. This was a few years before the current bourbon craze started and our host didn’t offer much commentary about one being better than another (Incidentally, my favorite was Eagle Rare 17 year). We spent the following day visiting a few other distilleries before our trip was cut short and we had to head back to the Pacific NW.
The trip, while pretty random and full of happenstance, helped me to find a new passion. But why bourbon? Why spend so much energy trying to evangelize it to others?
For me, bourbon is a uniquely American product that I can feel directly connected to. Most importantly, it has flavors and varieties which are accessible at all price points.
Unlike wine or some other distilled spirits, even the high range of the product is affordable for many people’s budgets. Regardless of the size of your wallet, you can explore the world of bourbon and enjoy all of its diversity.
Not everyone will run into a Kentucky Colonel at their local winery. Nor can everyone take a trip to the bluegrass and explore the Bourbon Trail. The recent explosion in bourbon popularity can, however, provide the opportunity for a person to sample a glass at their local restaurant or pub. More often that not, that person will discover something truly exceptional.